Love's Crushing Diamond, the latest instalment from Mutual Benefit - or nucleus Jordan Lee and his ever-interchanging band - certainly feels seasonally attuned. Growth, hope, expansion, a rising resilience; each typically associated with this yearly juncture, and captured on Love's Crushing Diamond via balanced measures of hyper-age-folk and avant-pop. Typically - and perhaps sentimentally/fallibly - the new-year is a kind of pseudo-rebirth, mirrored socially swathes of fresh self-oaths, and naturally via the symptoms of spring. All in all it's a time of self-expression and free-revelation, common features that make Love's Crushing Diamond so very beguiling, and warm its very earnest center.
This period of pandemic hope has been captured before. It pays to remember Noah & The Whale's sophomore album, The First Days Of Spring. Sadly now over-shadowed by their more palatable, cheesy-grinned successors, it shares many similar qualities. Something in its lightness, its melancholic threads; its emotional synthesis, its analogue sympathies -- all equally symptomatic of Love's Crushing Diamond, both traversing very acute emotional depths, tooled with very similar sonic palettes.
Having said that, I do approach my immediate fondness for this record with mild caution. There are moments that feel oddly washed out, tracks somewhat bereft of an almost unidentifiable substance, or feeling, or presence. The issue is certainly not the softly threaded harmonies, nor the bright and resonant string sections. It's certainly not the understated, organic-or-android, Sparklehorse-esque percussion, or the choice, lo-fi moments at the mouth and terminus of each track.
None of those positive recoils, instead this: a partially unquenched thirst for any kind of substantial spectacle or climax.
That doesn't necessarily mean it's not maximal enough, or that the ensemble lacks anything significant or central. It's simply that the points of apex, when the compositions reach their most grand and gestural point, could maybe benefit from finer intricacies, a more resonant spectrum of feeling. Sometimes it's like looking over a partially over-exposed photo - too much light and not enough creeping dark, not enough juxtaposition to bring the whole into true definition. Those contrasts are there; it just lacks clear points of overt conflict.
Still, it's a land of promise. There's a hoard of startlingly production; the rain of glockenspiel in the closing portion of 'C.L.Rosarian' and the rich, defiant strings in 'Strong Swimmer' -- shrouded by a pitch-perfect, electronically induced mist. 'Advance Falconry' is warm and rich, and leads light-footed into the delicate throes of 'The Light That's Blinding' - a track that, whether subconsciously or purposefully, feels like an ode to the late Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) -- balancing organic acoustics with the invasive life-fuzz of machines.
Naturally, there are those that 'see-through' the blithe hopes of a new year, and maybe they'd discredit Love's Crushing Diamond as symptomatic of a cultures inability to face its own dissatisfaction and unsettlement; art that upholds blindness. Maybe the counterargument exists within that mentality itself, but I don't care enough - right now at least - to wonder that thought any further.
All I know is this: Mutual Benefit have produced something special, and I'd like to wish them a pretty rocking new year.